New AHS stairwayView of the forum stairs, looking from the cafeteria toward the Mass. Ave. entrance. At the top of the stairs, to the right, will be the entrance to the new gym when phase 3 is complete. /  Catherine Brewster photos

Temperatures in the teens did not deter 2,000 visitors -- according to an estimate from building committee member Amy Speare -- from coming out Saturday morning, Jan. 20, to see the latest completed spaces at Arlington High School.

Senior citizens, School Committee members and beaming elementary schoolers with their parents were among those trooping through phase 2 in snow gear. AHS students stationed around the building answered questions cheerfully. Town Manager Jim Feeney greeted visitors to the new auditorium while gently deterring them from going backstage. 

The sleek, fully accessible auditorium can accommodate half the student body, at 826 seats and takes its place as the second-largest auditorium in Arlington, after Town Hall, school officials say.

The most recent structures and spaces represent the completion of phase 2 of the yearslong construction project. 

In November, town spokeswoman Joan Roman described the upcoming timeline: “Phase 3 construction of the athletics wing is already underway and is expected to be complete in December 2024. The fourth and final phase of the project includes construction of two additional synthetic turf multisport fields and a Minuteman Bikeway connector and is anticipated to be completed by September 2025.” AHS light fixtureLooking up into the four-story lightwell in the new building.

Some students’ thoughts

“The old brick building felt like the old Arlington to me,” said Frankie, a senior, who noted that some students think that the new building “doesn’t have much character.” She went on to say that even though she expected a lot of disruption in attending high school during the construction process, “it was actually really interesting. The open space has been really nice -- nothing like the old school.”

A sophomore named Ezinne noted that she “wasn’t as attached” to the old building as older students, who had spent more time on campus before phase 2 was complete. She called the new spaces “amazing, really bright, with so many places to hang out and study.”auditoriumAuditorium seating.

Audrey, a ninth grader, said “the layout seemed really confusing” when she had visited as an eighth grader but that it “made sense right away” to her once she actually started school there.

An earlier look into students’ views when Phase 1 opened, in spring 2022, can be found here>>

The background on the rebuild

Jeff Thielman, School Committee member and chair of the building committee, greeting enthusiasts in the library, said he was proud of the team’s work “listening to kids and educators,” many of whom he said value as much natural light as possible. In the two-story library, “envisioned as the heart of the school,” according to the building committee’s handout to visitors, such features include light wells.

For more on the details of Phase 2 and a photograph of the library, YourArlington’s coverage is located here >>

AHS, the largest complex that the town owns, has been under reconstruction since 2020. The New England Association of Schools and Colleges had put AHS on “warning” status — in danger of losing its accreditation — in 2013 because of its deteriorating physical state, and so the town's electorate voted in 2019 to fund a debt exclusion to pay for the project through higher property taxes. The state, in the form of the Massachusetts School Building Authority, is paying for about a third of the estimated $300 million total cost.

The project continues to be on budget and is now about 75-percent complete, officials say.

Energy efficiency

The new sustainability features mean that the new school will use half the energy that the old one did. So far, it already has achieved LEED “gold” status, which earns it “an additional 2 percentage points reimbursement from the MSBA, or about $3.5 million,” according to the website.AHS constructionPart of what’s left of the old building.

Though “the project team is working hard towards a goal of LEED Platinum,” the above website states, the relatively small footprint “means that for the given floorspace of the building, there is relatively less roof space on which to install solar panels (for example, multiple two- or three-story classroom wings instead of a single four- or five-story wing would have more roof space for the same floorspace). There is also limited onsite parking over which to build canopies for additional PV” (photovoltaic solar panels).

The School Committee's newest member, Laura Gitelson, stationed in the new district offices that made up a relatively far-flung part of the tour, said she was astonished at the number of people “who wanted to see every single thing.”

To this reporter, it appears that the still-under-construction campus is both the pride of the town and the subject of careful scrutiny from the residents whose taxes are paying for it.

Jan. 10, 2024: Menotomy Preschool reopened Jan. 4, back on AHS campus

This text with photos by YourArlington freelancer Catherine Brewster was published Tuesday, Jan. 23, 2024.